LE MANS 24 HOURS: 2007-2016

Motor Sport News - - Interview: Watts Retires -

Re­sults (in class): 2007 (DNF), 2009 (14th), 2010 (1st), 2011 (DNF), 2012 (8th), 2013 (6th), 2015 (DNF), 2016 (4th) Watts’ most suc­cess­ful era has been in en­durance rac­ing with the Strakka team but, as he ex­plains, it was a part­ner­ship that so nearly never hap­pened.

“Back in 2009 Nick Leven­tis and Peter Hard­man had just bought a Ginetta Zytek GZ09S LMP1 car hav­ing moved up from GT rac­ing and en­tered the Le Mans Series, but needed a third driver,” he says. “They in­vited me to come and do the first race, the Barcelona 1000kms, with them but weren’t go­ing to pay me and I had a pay­ing job at Sil­ver­stone with the rac­ing school, so I ini­tially turned it down. They bad­gered me un­til I gave in and went and I ended up qual­i­fy­ing on pole ahead of Ste­fan Mucke and Darren Turner in the two fac­tory As­ton Martin-lola LMP1S. We fin­ished fifth and they signed me for the year!”

The re­la­tion­ship blos­somed when Watts’ long-time friend Jonny Kane joined the team. The Watts-leven­tis-kane com­bi­na­tion be­came a bit of a dream team, es­pe­cially in 2010, which was a record-break­ing season. The trio be­came the first to win a Euro­pean Le Mans Series race out­right in an LMP2 car, and also won LMP2 at Le Mans, tak­ing the high­est ever fin­ish for a P2 en­try, in fifth over­all.

“The 2010 season was ridicu­lous,” says Watts. “We swapped to the HPD [Honda Per­for­mance De­vel­op­ment] LMP2 chas­sis as the costs in LMP1 weren’t work­ing for us. But the HPD was new-gen­er­a­tion and used all the lat­est tech and wasn’t much heav­ier than the P1 cars ei­ther.

“I’ll never for­get the Hun­garor­ing ELMS round. It’s a tight and twisty track and we got the car so hooked up and I nailed my qual­i­fy­ing run and ended up on pole, 0.4s faster than all of the LMP1 en­tries, and it was bone dry! We won the race by a lap to score the first-ever out­right win for an LMP2 car, which was amaz­ing. Then we went to Le Mans and it got even bet­ter.

“Dan Walm­s­ley, who was our en­gi­neer at the time and has since be­come team man­ager, pushed us so hard that week­end. We were up against other HPDS too, so it was a straight fight, and the ri­val Highcroft car had three pro driv­ers in David Brab­ham, Marino Fran­chitti and Marco Werner. We ran qual­i­fy­ing laps ev­ery sin­gle stint, and to win was mag­i­cal. I don’t sleep dur­ing Le Mans, it doesn’t work for me, so when I was up on the podium I was bro­ken, but the sight of the fans be­low you is the strong­est stim­u­lant. I got my phone out and took a selfie and it’s the best pic­ture I’ve ever taken. I was on the podium at Le Mans with my two best mates in the world and it was amaz­ing.

“We had a party in the mo­torhome on the Bu­gatti Cir­cuit after that. With no sleep in about 36 hours I was com­pletely trashed after two beers and passed out at 2200hrs so I missed most of it.”

This is his “best pic­ture ever taken” Watts took the fi­nal stint dur­ing the 2010 Le Mans event

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